Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month in Sonoma County
September 15 to October 15 marks National Hispanic Heritage Month (aka Latinx Heritage Month). Structured around the independence days of countries throughout the Hispanic world, this month-long observance is an opportunity for Americans to celebrate the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Here in Sonoma County, our Hispanic/Latinx community plays a vital role in the success of our wine, agriculture, and culinary industries. Here we highlight the stories and contributions of just a few of our Hispanic-American neighbors, all of whom help to make Sonoma County a beloved, culturally rich corner of the country.
Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma
Robledo is the first winery in the United States to be founded by Mexican vineyard workers on their own land. Opened in 1997 by Reynaldo Robledo, Sr. and his wife Maria de la Luz Robledo, the winery is now run by their large, thriving family.
Born in the Mexican state of Michoacan, Reynaldo first came to Northern California in 1968 at the age of 17, joining several family members at a winery labor camp in Calistoga. There, he learned how to farm vineyards and graft grapevines, and soon he became the vineyard foreman. After marrying Michoacan-born Maria in 1970, Reynaldo would spend the next two decades working in vineyards throughout the Sonoma, Napa, and Pope valleys.
After years of saving, in 1984, Reynaldo and Maria defied vineyard-laborer convention and bought a 13-acre plot in Carneros, planting it with Pinot Noir. Reynaldo taught his nine children how to care for every aspect of this vineyard, training that laid the groundwork for not only their eventual winery, but many other family-owned businesses, as well.
In 1994, as the Robledo parents were founding the family winery on their original Carneros property, sons Everardo, Reynaldo, Jr., and Jenaro established Robledo Vineyard Management. Helmed by Jenaro since 2002 (and with guidance from Reynaldo, Sr.) this company has developed hundreds of acres of vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Lake counties. Jenaro and Everardo also established Robledo & Sons, which owns and leases vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties.
In 2007, eldest son Everardo opened Robledo Cellars, a custom crush facility in Sonoma that produces all of Robledo's wines, as well as wine for private labels. Today, he is president and CEO of Robledo Family Winery, while his youngest brothers, Francisco, Lazaro, and Adrian Emiliano, help with national and regional sales, and youngest sister Vanessa handles marketing. Eldest daughter Lorena is co-founder of Mi Sueño Winery in Napa, while Reynaldo, Jr. runs his own Sonoma Valley-based business, The Olive Tree Farm.
Robledo Family Winery presently produces about 20,000 cases of their branded wine at Robledo Cellars and 300 cases at their 40-acre estate on Bonness Road in Sonoma. However, they've begun plans to build a new hospitality center, event space, and larger cellar on the estate, with intentions to move all their wine production to the estate and expand to 50,000 cases. In 2022, the winery's extensive offerings include Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Tempranillo, dry Riesling, Pinot Grigio, and sparkling wine. Robledo Family Winery, 21901 Bonness Road, Sonoma; 707- 939-6903
La Michoacana Natural Ice Cream in Sonoma
Ice cream is a very big deal in Mexico's west-coast state of Michoacan, and since many of Sonoma County's Hispanic residents originally hail from here, this family-owned Sonoma ice cream palace makes excellent sense. Also? The treats here are flat-out delicious.
Aside from house-made ice cream, frozen specialities include fresh-fruit paletas (popsicles) and sorbets with flavors like tequila and pineapple. You can also sip on a variety of agua frescas; dig into fresas con crema (strawberries drenched in sweet cream); or indulge in a chocolate-dipped, nut-crusted banana on a stick. And bonus for Spanish speakers: Much of the staff is bilingual. La Michoacana Natural Ice Cream, 18495 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma; 707-938-1773
El Milagro in Cloverdale
Located in Cloverdale's historic Owl Building (site of the former Owl Cafe), El Milagro offers all your Mexican favorites, but Chef de Cuisine Julio Vasquez also focuses on classic Mexican comfort food called guisados (stews or braised dishes).
One specialty rarely seen Stateside is their pipian (green pumpkin seed mole), and the kitchen's creativity shows with appetizers like the Shrimp & Avocado, quinoa-crusted prawn-and-avocado bites served with chipotle aioli.
The daily combo special at El Milagro generally features a mix of tacos, empanadas, enchiladas and/or flautas; prepare to be delighted by hearty guisado fillings and seasonal flavors. El Milagro, 485 S. Cloverdale Blvd. Cloverdale; 707-894-6334
Sol Food in Petaluma
The latest outpost of an iconic Puerto Rican restaurant from San Rafael, Petaluma's El Sol opened in February 2022 in the former Sauced BBQ space in Theater Square. Co-owned by Marisol "Sol" Hernandez (whose Puerto Rican grandmother taught her how to cook) and her husband Victor Cielo, El Sol serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with lively flavors that are more spiced than spicy.
Standouts include the Cubano sandwich; pollo al horno (garlic- and oregano-marinated chicken thighs); tostones con queso (plantains fried with garlic and smothered with melted jack cheese); Pan Frances (coconut-milk French toast); and coco-limon (a refreshing lime and coconut smoothie). Vegetarians will also be happy here, as there are lots of fresh salads and veggie options.
El Sol is especially known for its pique (hot pepper sauce) and its lemon-garlic salad dressing, and sells both by the bottle. Sol Food, 151 Petaluma Blvd South, Petaluma; 707-347-5998
Tia Maria Panaderia y Pastelieria in Santa Rosa
Created by the owners of Healdsburg's Costeaux Bakery, Tia Maria is a neighborhood café located in the eastern Roseland area of Santa Rosa. Its name honors Mary Zandrino, the great aunt (Aunt Mary, or Tia Maria) who encouraged Costeaux's Nancy and Karl Seppi to get into the bakery business in the early 1980s.
The panaderia is known for its conchas (traditional Mexican sweet bread rolls); sandwiches served on bolillos (savory baguette-style sandwich rolls); churros; and a wide array of postres, or desserts. The house java, Bella Rosa Coffee, is also made in Santa Rosa. Tia Maria Panaderia y Pastelieria, 44 Sebastopol Avenue, Santa Rosa; 707-540-9864
Happy National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sonoma County!
Written by Melanie Wynne